Monthly Archives: December 2009


DARPA has announced that the MIT Red Balloon Team has won the 2009 DARPA Network Challenge.

DARPA Network Challenge Balloon Locations

DARPA Network Challenge Balloon Locations

It will be interesting to see whether the MIT team‘s win was due to their technological proficiency or their multi-level-marketing approach to rewarding balloon spotters and referrers. Here is how they are planning to distribute the $40,000 reward:

We’re giving $2000 per balloon to the first person to send us the correct coordinates, but that’s not all — we’re also giving $1000 to the person who invited them. Then we’re giving $500 whoever invited the inviter, and $250 to whoever invited them, and so on.

Liveblogging the DARPA Network Challenge

10:19 – Balloons launched 19 minutes ago. I’ve got my Firefox tabs open, my phone in my pocket, and the oven warming up to cook some biscuits. All I need is some balloon-finding music.
Balloons are flying high!

10:27 – I’m combing through Twitter posts. “DARPA balloon in Anaheim.” A little vague on the location. Could be just trolling. “St. Paul DARPA” Uh, more information please.

10:37 – Already a claim of six known locations.

10:40 – Searched for “heinz field” on twitter. Most of the posts were about some football game. Only one report of a balloon. Seems suspicious nobody else is mentioning the balloon.

10:44 – Bithlo Speedway, Bithlo Florida. Rochester, NY (#7) red balloon

10:46 – Claims for Fanuell Hall in Boston, and Duxbury, MA. Different balloons or one balloon seen from both locations?

10:49 – Some claims that the balloons are transmitting their location over shortwave radio. “Receiving data from a #balloon in Phoenix,AZ on 400.600 MHz Signal increasing in strength” Tweet from PhoenixScanner. Other similar tweets.

10:51 – This is probably a better fix on the Anaheim balloon. “numbthumb @julienkotbfan… #DARPA #Balloon #5 …Irvine Spectrum in CA, right near the main entrance. (zOMG!!! I work near there!) 33.653363,-117.748988”

10:55 – Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park.

11:02 – Made the mistake of visiting 4chan thinking they would have balloon pictures. No pictures of balloons per se.

11:06 – Twitter noise may be drowning out the signal now. The kids have started on to a “DARPA balloon – My hometown” gag. People are also spamming with their email/phone/websites trying to direct reports to themselves. The search results are reverse-chronological, so they must keep tweeting the same tweet to stay on top. Of course, as one frequent spammer repeatedly reminds “it’s for charity!”

11:11 – Anybody know how to deblur a Photoshop blur effect? I know it’s been done before.

11:13 – Twitter may have just become useless. The latest tweet: “koolkid0201 I just saw a balloon in Peoria chicago philadelphia orlando tennesee”

11:16 – First (funny) red balloon joke found on metafilter: Call CNN, Fox, MSNBC, tell them “my kid’s missing, I think he got into my red weather balloon.”

11:22 – Yeah, I am a twitterer now! My first tweet: “To all you DARPA Network Challenge griefers: Pics or GTFO. #balloon #darpa”

11:32 – Alright, it’s time to cook and eat those biscuits. Back in a few.

12:18 – I’m back. For all the possible sightings, my list is woefully poor.
#1 ?
#2 ?
#3 ?
#4 ?
#5 Irvine Spectrum (fairly confident)
#6 ?
#7 ?
#8 ?
#9 ?
#10 ?
I’m also fairly confident about the Bithlo Speedway report. The last I heard, the Providence River balloon was a fake.

12:25 – And it’s over. Unless this is a very impressive hack to discourage other teams, the network challenge site is reporting the following results:
Entrants: 4095
Total Submissions: 225
Entrants making submissions: 80
Correct balloon locations submitted: 44

12:28 – Wow, the number of correct lists has climbed to 63.

12:40 – There is a saying in war that “Plans do not survive first contact with the enemy.” I’ll propose an Internet corollary: “Social media experiments do not survive first contact with the Internet without being morphed into something ridiculous.”
Obama cupcake balloonCourtesy of the team.

12:58 – NSFW balloon location from DerekofBavaria: 48°04′02″N 12°51′49″E 😉

1:10 – has a map of user-submitted locations. I can’t imagine trying to keep that map clean. The first time I saw it, someone was spelling “HI MOM” with reported addresses.

1:13 – I’m just learning how twitter works today. One thing you can do that is very helpful is create lists of accounts. All the tweets from those accounts then get combined in one chronologically ordered list. Perfect for events like today’s challenge. darpanetworkchallenge

1:31 – I’m reading They are also liveblogging the day, but they are trying to win the contest at the same time. BTW, I may have jumped the gun when I said the contest was already over. DARPA’s announcement of “Correct balloon locations submitted: 126” is (possibly intentionally) vague. I was reading it as the number of correct and complete lists. Many others are reading it as just the number of individual correct reports.

1:45 – Ummm. Kinda bored. Very few people are sharing information. Most of the action seems to centered on the competing teams. Or maybe I’m looking in the wrong places. I’m hitting various Twitter hash tags (lots of talk, very little info), a couple Facebook groups (nearly lifeless) and the blogs for some of the participants (interesting updates, but obviously no direct discussion of balloon locations).

1:50 – A group at MIT took the Multi-Level-Marketing (think Amway) approach. The balloon spotter gets $500, the person who referred the spotter to the group gets $250 and so on. I guess that might appeal. It certainly incentivizes getting a lot of people to join the MIT group. However, it doesn’t really incentivize going out and looking for balloons, which is really what generates value. This is one of the (many) problems with MLM in general.

2:28 – A balloon location with handy coordinates has been reported by some local press. Already numerous commenters are complaining about this news site “ruining” the contest by publishing the coordinates. I’m not sure how it ruins anything. Is this not just another piece of information to be found and filtered by the community? Is it real? How trustworthy do you find The Hook? Is The Hook website any easier to find than Cherry Avenue and Ridge Street in Charlottesville?

2:45 – Time for this balloon hunter to shave and shower. Thanks to everyone for sharing their tweets, emails and blogs today! I’ll check back in tomorrow. If you want to read about a very similar hunt (for one person free to travel rather than 10 moored balloons) check out the Wired story VANISH.

2:55 – Sorry, couldn’t resist one more check of the network challenge site. Now they are being clear. THERE IS NO WINNER YET!
No Darpa Network Challenge Winner Yet